A Comparative Take on the Ground Game

Most of the stories on the “ground game” of the two presidential campaigns and their parties are a matter of dueling quotes, with Team Obama touting its sterling 2008 reputation and its vast sea of field offices while Team Romney compares its effort to Bush/Cheney ’04 and its largely invisible (but reportedly very effective) direct voter contacts.

But The Atlantic‘s Molly Ball decided to go into a battleground state (the easily accessible Virginia suburbs of DC) and look around, and her story, though not very conclusive, is well worth reading.

To make a very long story short, Ball found that the Republican “ground game” was more focused on down-ballot candidates than the Big One; was not at all preoccupied with voter registration or other efforts to expand the playing field; and didn’t seem particularly innovative in its strategic underpinnings or its infrastructure. And while she couldn’t completely document the alleged superiority of Obama’s 2012 GOTV program to its 2008 predecessor, she saw signs everywhere of a carefully thought-out and standardized effort.

Such accounts could obviously miss important factors. Some of the registration-based “playing field expansion” for the GOP was conducted in the runup to the 2010 midterm elections, as reflected in big shifts in the partisan registration numbers in important states like Iowa. And there wasn’t much in Ball’s story about the mechanics of the actual “knock-and-drag” whereby reliable voters are produced at polling places, either early or on November 6. But it’s still the best comparative look we’ve had so far, so give it a gander, and share any personal glimpses you’ve had at comparative “ground game” efforts in the comment thread.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.